What has happened? I never imagined that a civilized society could forget, rebel against, or redefine an institution that is at the bedrock of human nature, of what it means to be a human person consisting of body and soul. And, yet, the United States of America, in manifest reversal against its founding principles, has redefined marriage. Why is this a problem for our country?
In a pluralistic society, moral arguments have to be explained and presented well since the members of such a society come from various backgrounds, traditions and languages. Honestly, in the pluralistic arena, the least effective moral arguments are ones based on religion, especially the Christian religion. America is post-Christian, and in a pluralistic society, unless one is speaking as a believer in order to give testimony to faith, moral arguments based solely on the Gospel or Jesus Christ are not effective. People will not listen and it feeds the false impression that Christians are just trying to impose their beliefs on others. In a situation in which religious arguments are used, rather than presenting a real argument, we have only provided one side to an eventual clash of orthodoxies. Moreover, and more importantly, we should avoid using an argument based on religion because this is not a religious argument. The question involving the definition of marriage is an argument over nature and justice. It’s an argument over what the human person is, the complementary nature of male and female, the unique identity of the nuptial bond, the procreation of the human race, and the giving to others what is their due (or not).
Some might say, “Why be involved at all. We have our religious belief and our sacrament, why should we care? Live and let live! This is our belief, let others live according to theirs.” As Christians, our faith does enlighten us to see more holistically what our human reason can show any person of good will (regardless of creedal belief or even with an absence of such belief). Reason, Nature, and Justice can be discerned and grasped by any human person. Christianity does not have a monopoly on this discernment. On this basic level of humanity, there are only human beliefs (shared by all: Christians, Jews, Muslims, secularists, atheists, etc). As Christians, we are involved in this debate because we see these basic truths as being applicable to all human beings. We see what is ordered, good, and wholesome. We see these basic truths and we want to share them. For example, we see the necessary good of the nuptial relationship having both a masculine and feminine presence for each spouse themselves and because children will be born from this relationship and they would benefit from having both a father’s and mother’s love. As believers, we are committed to the common good and seek the benefit and flourishing of our neighbors. As in the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Pro-Life Movement, etc., Christians are involved because we see truths that can be known by anyone and that can help everyone, and we let our faith inspire us to seek what is good for all. Christian involvement is not a pseudo-theocracy, but a genuine desire to serve and help society.
When we address homosexual marriage, we have to distinguish the lifestyle from the institution. It is a valid argument that people and citizens have an aspect of privacy. There should not be laws against sodomy in one’s home, there should not be laws against hiring or promoting persons with a homosexual lifestyle in sectarian businesses, and there should not be abuses or offenses leveled against any gay person (or any person). Moreover, respecting the privacy of citizens, there should be a legal application of civil unions to all (even if the two people involved happen to be a gay couple). Such civil unions should assure health benefits, life insurance, medical power of attorney, etc. These all flow from both an understanding of human rights, privacy, and from the lifestyle of gay persons. None of the above, or related matters, should be debated legally or morally (of course there is a large moral discussion there on homosexuality itself). When, however, we leave this realm and begin to argue that there is a human right for homosexual persons to have access to the institution of marriage, then we enter a whole new realm. What’s the difference?
A human right, also called a “civil right” or a “natural right,” is a right precisely because it comes from our nature, our essence, as human persons. It is above governments, laws, policies, passions, political intrigue, and personal desire. Our inalienable rights come from our human nature (“endowed” by our “Creator” to quote the deist Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence). Again, these rights come from our nature and not from our or a government’s will or whim. If something does not match the order of nature, then a right cannot flow from it. Since a homosexual act does not follow the complementary nature of the sexual act, it introduces a dis-order to the act itself. Since there is a dis-order to nature, there can be no appeal to a right from such an act. Men and women have a natural right to marry one another since their sexual union reflects the complementary nature of the sexual act. The nuptial union is a unique relationship since it both complements our human nature and because it is the desired union from which offspring are born. The essence of marriage is about bodily and spiritual unity as well as procreation. It is precisely this two-fold purpose that designates the nuptial relationship as particular and unique. So, marriage is not only about affection or emotional fulfillment, but about complementarity and procreation.
Are gay people free to marry? Yes, they can marry. Any male or female person is free and has the natural right to marry any other person of the opposite gender. Any legally single woman can marry any legally single man and vice versa. Someone can choose not to marry because they wish to remain single or because they are in a gay relationship, etc. For someone, or a government, to argue that we should change the definition or identity of marriage in order to match the option or lifestyle that someone has chosen to follow is to present chaos and confusion to the very defined nature and relationship within marriage. There are many other relationships needed and praised in society (and in sacred stories throughout the different religious traditions). For example, friendship is a relationship too often treated as a commodity in our society today. It can be a true relationship of affection and encouragement. Most human beings, whether homosexual and heterosexual, principally desire someone to love (and be loved by) and to accompany through life’s joys and struggles (and to be accompanied by). This very human desire, however it is expressed (and the homosexual expression would be a different moral discussion), does not and cannot constitute a redefinition to marriage. In summary, we do not change the essence of defined institutions because of personal choices and preferences. No society or social order could endure such confusion and capriciousness.
The understanding of our essence as human persons, as male and female, and of the nuptial relationship shows us a natural law within each of us. This natural law, the order of things within and beyond us, help us to see why an attempt to redefine marriage would be to introduce a “lawless law” within our society. It would be to provide a law and system of rights that are not grounded on nature but on ideology, passion, affection, and emotional fulfillment. It would make marriage and in principle the other institutions of our society, which should be intermediary groups to balance government and cells upon which our community is built, devoid of meaning, significance, and purpose. Such a course of action would change the “rule of law” into a state in which there is only a “law of ruling” since nature, a common source and foundation for civil morality, would be trumped by ideology and the fluidity of passion. This would lead to divisive battles over what is right and wrong and every interest group would be using a different source and language. In such a state, there can be no true unity or peace. It would only lead to division and eventually to barbarism itself.